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Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692

This research will examine the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692 in Massachusetts Bay Colony and set forth evidence from contemporaneous sources that they were politically motivated.

It is a commonplace of prerevolution American history that the Salem witch trials and executions of 1692 were an aberration of the general tendency toward shaping society in line with ideas of personal and political liberty. But that line of thought ignores the complexities of creating a new civil society in the wilderness. Further, it ignores the fact that those who built that society, namely Massachusetts Bay, were amalgams of their personal and group history in England. As matters turned out, by 1792 Massachusetts had achieved a political reputation associated with political radicalism and a progressive, liberal republican government. However, the evidence of the Salem trials and hangings is that the Puritan society of 1692, standing squarely in the middle of the chronological continuum from the late 1400s to the late 1800s, had as much in common with the Britain and Europe of the late fifteenth century as with the America of the late nineteenth. And in the background of the Salem trials was a well-settled tradition of popular opinion about witchcraft as a dangerous and powerful rival of Christianity, as both ethos and doctrine.

The religious and juridical resonance of Malleus Maleficarum, first published 1485-1490, should not be underestimated in this regard. Pope Innocent VII's 1484 Bull, Summis desiderantes, served as imprimatur of Malleus, formally sanctioning the authority of the Inquisition to "proceed to the just correction, imprisonment, and punishment of any persons, without let or hindrance, in every way as if the provinces, townships, dioceses, districts, territories, yea, even the persons and their crimes in this kind were named and particularly designated in Our letters" (Malleus xliv). All who threatened or endeavored "to hinder or ha...

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Salem Witchcraft Trials of 1692. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 21:49, May 27, 2020, from